With ball in hand, there was little Richard Hadlee couldn't do. He moved it both ways, in the air and off the pitch, and managed to extract life from even the most unresponsive conditions. His consistency was unparalleled, which ensured he finished with career numbers that rank among the best of all time. His amazing bowling ability wasn't his only suit, though: he was more than handy with the bat, and was one of the four great allrounders of his era.
However, it's his skills with the ball that stood out, especially since he almost single-handedly carried a New Zealand bowling attack that had few other attacking options. Hadlee began his Test career in 1973, but his first five years were fairly ordinary, fetching him only 61 wickets, each costing more than 35.
Thereafter, though, he came into his own, and over the next decade and more every top-class batsman had his share of worries against Hadlee. His golden period
was between the beginning of 1978 and the end of 1988, a period when he averaged five-and-a-half wickets per Test and less than 20 runs per wicket. His consistency during this period
was remarkable: the average was less than 24 against every team he played, and only in the West Indies did his average go beyond 25. He was phenomenal in matches that New Zealand won
, but even in defeats he averaged 21.71, taking 94 wickets in 18 matches.
In his last couple of years his average went up marginally, but it was still below 25. And quite fittingly, he finished his Test career with a five-for, taking 5 for 53
at Edgbaston in a performance that helped him win the Man of the Series award. It was his 36th five-for, which was the record at the time and has subsequently been surpassed only by Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne. (Click here
for the list of bowlers with most five-fors.)
Bowling was clearly his best suit, but Hadlee was a pretty handy batsman as well, especially during the second half of his career. In his last 46 Tests he averaged an impressive 33.16, which was an improvement of more than 50% over his average in his first 40 Tests. His only Test century came during this period too, when he scored an unbeaten 151
against Sri Lanka in Colombo in 1987.
Thanks to his improved batting skills, Hadlee was easily among the best allrounders in the world during the second half of his career. During the period between 1983 and 1990, only Imran Khan had a higher difference between batting and bowling averages (but Imran played as a specialist in some games during that period due to injury). The difference between Hadlee's batting and bowling averages was 13.39 - much superior to the corresponding numbers for Kapil Dev and Ian Botham.
There were several outstanding bowlers who were at the peak of their powers in the 1980s, but even among them Hadlee stood out. In the 11-year period between 1978 and 1988, his average of 19.57 was bettered only by Imran. Malcolm Marshall and Joel Garner had a slightly higher average, while Kapil and Botham find themselves at the bottom of the table below, with their averages almost 10 higher than Hadlee's.
Playing for one of the weaker teams in international cricket meant some of Hadlee's best performances went in vain, but there were several other occasions when he single-handedly won matches for New Zealand. On the 22 instances when he finished on the winning side, Hadlee took a whopping 173 wickets
- that's almost eight wickets per match - at a spectacular average of 13.06, which remains the best among bowlers with 150 wickets in wins. In 22 matches Hadlee had 17 five-wicket hauls, including his career-best figures of 9 for 52 during an unforgettable performance
against Australia in Brisbane.
New Zealand's dependence on Hadlee was well known, but here are some numbers to put that into perspective: in the 86 Tests that he played, Hadlee took more than 35% of the wickets for his team (431 out of 1207). In wins, it improved even further, to 40.8% (173 out of 424). The table below compares his numbers to those of Muttiah Muralitharan, the only other bowler in the last 40 years who has had that sort of responsibility thrust upon him.
One of the most impressive aspects about Hadlee was his ability to deliver regardless of the conditions. The subcontinent proved too tough to conquer for some fast bowlers - Dennis Lillee, for instance, took three wickets at 103 apiece in his three Tests
in Pakistan - but not for Hadlee. In the 13 Tests
he played in Asia he averaged 21.58, with five five-fors. He struggled a bit in Pakistan, taking 10 wickets in three Tests, but in India he was sensational, with his ten-wicket haul
in Mumbai leading New Zealand to a famous win in 1989.
Among fast bowlers from outside the subcontinent who took at least 50 wickets there, Hadlee has one of the best averages, as the table below shows.
Hadlee was lethal against most opponents, but he saved his very best for his trans-Tasman rivals, Australia. In only 23 Tests
against them, Hadlee took 14 five-fors, the most by any bowler. Each wicket against them cost him 20.56, which is among the best for bowlers who got at least 75 Australian wickets. Not surprisingly, Australians dominate the list of batsmen he dismissed most often
, with five of them in his top seven.
Test cricket was the arena where Hadlee was at his fiercest, but he was more than a handful as a one-day player too. He played only 115 matches over 17 years - an indication of how frequently, or not, ODIs were played in his day - but finished with 158 wickets at an excellent average and economy rate. The strike rate improved tremendously during his last eight years, with his wickets-per-match figure going up to 1.5.
Among bowlers who took at least 100 ODI wickets till 1990, Hadlee averaged fourth, with only Joel Garner, Dennis Lillee and Michael Holding doing better. The last World Cup he played was in 1983, and he finished with an exceptional record
in the tournament, conceding only 2.88 runs per over in 13 matches.
Lowest bowling averages among ODI bowlers till 1990 (Qual: 100 wickets)
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo